Background: HER-2 represents a relatively new therapeutic target for non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. The incidence for reported HER-2 overexpression/amplification/mutations ranges from 2 to 20% in NSCLC. Moreover, HER-2 amplification is a potential mechanism of resistance to tyrosine kinase inhibitors of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR-TKI) (about 10% of cases). T-DM1, trastuzumab emtansine is an antibody-drug conjugate composed by the monoclonal antibody trastuzumab and the microtubule polymerization inhibitor DM1. The activity of T-DM1 has been studied in breast cancer but the role of T-DM1 in lung cancer remains unexplored.
Methods: Antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects of T-DM1 have been investigated in different NSCLC cell lines by MTT, crystal violet staining, morphological study and Western blotting. HER-2 expression and cell cycle were evaluated by flow cytometry and Western blotting. Antibody dependent cell cytotoxicity (ADCC) was measured with a CytoTox assay. Xenografted mice model has been generated using a NSCLC cell line to evaluate the effect of T-DM1 on tumor growth. Moreover, a morphometric and immunohistochemical analysis of tumor xenografts was conducted.
Results: In this study we investigated the effect of T-DM1 in a panel of NSCLC cell lines with different HER-2 expression levels, in H1781 cell line carrying HER-2 mutation and in gefitinib resistant HER-2 overexpressing PC9/HER2cl1 cell clone. T-DM1 efficiently inhibited proliferation with arrest in G2-M phase and induced cell death by apoptosis in cells with a significant level of surface expression of HER-2. Antibody-dependent cytotoxicity assay documented that T-DM1 maintained the same activity of trastuzumab. Our data also suggest that targeting HER-2 with T-DM1 potentially overcomes gefitinib resistance. In addition a correlation between cell density/tumor size with both HER-2 expression and T-DM1 activity was established in vitro and in an in vivo xenograft model.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that targeting HER-2 with T-DM1 may offer a new therapeutic approach in HER-2 over-expressing lung cancers including those resistant to EGFR TKIs.